Southwest Child Care director presents research in Amsterdam

Early childhood education is fundamental to proper intellectual development and success. Southwest Director of Campus Child Care Programs Dr. Mary Palmer knows this well. She has dedicated her career to the advancement of child care with nearly 40 years served at Southwest.

Felicia Peat, Dr. Mary Palmer and Dr. Shelly Counsell attend the 48th Annual Jean Piaget Society Meeting in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Felicia Peat, Dr. Mary Palmer and Dr. Shelly Counsell attend the 48th Annual Jean Piaget Society Meeting in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Governor Phil Bredesen recognized her outstanding contributions in 2010 with the Pioneer Award.  "If you choose a career you love, it will never seem like work,” Dr. Palmer said. “I truly have joy in the workplace and have impacted the lives of many children and families on campus and in the community while employed at Southwest.”

Palmer’s knowledge and experience have positioned her as a national and international voice on early child care. The Jean Piaget Society invited her and other local professionals to Amsterdam last month to present Epigenetics and Life Trajectories: Maximizing Life Outcomes at its 48th annual meeting.

“Epigenetics provides the framework for understanding how our biological makeup and influences in our environment and experiences affect our behavior, intellectual abilities, personalities and health,” Dr. Palmer said.  “Teachers and caregivers who are responsive and sensitive to the needs of young children affect children’s behavior in academics, career and social environments.”

Dr. Palmer, University of Memphis assistant professor Dr. Shelly Counsell, and WKNO Public Broadcasting Station project coordinator Felicia Peat highlighted the importance of bonding, nurturing and teacher dispositions by tracking the lives of 200 former preschool children and the impact on their life outcomes over the past 30 years.  “This study highlighted 13 children across three decades; seven males and six females, all African American, using qualitative methods such as interviews, focus groups and one-to-one contact,” Palmer said.

The research data indicated a link between early childhood education and life outcomes. “Key trends that emerged from the research indicate a correlation between early childhood education and lasting socio-economic earning power, increased mobility with subjects more likely to leave the city, state and MidSouth; and, the formation of lifelong friendships with other children, parents and teachers,” Palmer said.

Palmer and her fellow researchers plan to publish and continue their research, which will include a longitudinal case study of 80 percent of the 200 subjects to examine and compare trends across demographics over four decades. Later this year, the team will present at the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME) in Memphis and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in Washington, DC.